As my tiny Air Bagan plane wobbled its way towards terra firma, bumping and grinding through the brown porridge that has become the visual for Chiang Mai’s air, I didn’t spare more than a few moments thinking of the horrors of the ambiance I was (hopefully) soon to breathe, because all I could concentrate on was making it to my own next swallowed gasp of breath.
You see, I have a fear of flying.
While statistics are overwhelmingly supportive of the safety of aviation, as we all know, things happen.
My own horrors over a lifetime of air travel have included mind-boggling events which would most likely stretch my credibility and your belief. On a Gulf Air flight to Geneva late one night many years ago, I was woken up by my flight attendant who informed me that the kindly man next to me, whose wheelchair I had pushed during our stopover in Abu Dhabi, had died. It was traumatising scrambling over his stiffening limbs. Many years later, my friend and I watched in panicked fascination one afternoon as a drunken man ran around the plane attempting to open all the doors on a flight to Hong Kong before he was thankfully lassoed like a young calf and tied to his seat (we later found out he had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer). During a short flight to Paris our plane was hit by lightning, something not too uncommon apparently, but petrifying nonetheless. Then there was the paralysing air-pocket drop on the way to a short Songkran break in Phuket where not only my stomach, but dozens of cups of coffee hit the ceiling of the plane before being unceremoniously dumped on my lap at the back of the aircraft – two people not wearing their seatbelts were injured.
I still recall with a shudder the three long schleps I made to Lhasa airport, waking up before dawn on three consecutive freezing mornings, before finally being given the green light to fly as a Mummy-esque wall of sand as high as the surrounding Himalayan mountains barreled towards the rear of our ascending plane. Other seemingly innocuous but confidence-zapping incidents included an Aeroflot flight whose door wouldn’t open, necessitating our embarking through the cargo hold on a cold Moscow morning, a goat stampede down the aisle on a hop from Libya to Burkina Faso and the SAS flight whose door seemed to spring a leak, sending so much Baltic wind up my trouser legs that I got a much-appreciated upgrade to first class. Then there are the usual nightmares of stifling heat, freezing temperatures, broken fixtures, windy descents, repeated attempts at landing, jerky takeoffs and so on and so forth.
But in spite of it all, fear of flying is a phobia like any other phobia. It is mainly irrational, seemingly uncontrollable…and utterly terrifying. Palms – well, everything – sweat, nails bite and dig, toes curl, tans pale and heartbeats disco-dance.
The horrors of the missing flight 370 are still very much on our collective consciousness as we finally end an incredulous and mystifying few weeks wondering about the plane’s fate. No fear of a bumpy ride can compare to those suffered, and will continue to suffer, by the family and friends of those passengers. It appeared inconceivable that something like that could happen in these times. Yet here we are.
With my irrational phobia compounded by the recent fear for Malaysian Airline’s boeing, you would think I’d be burning my passport by now. But we humans are a resilient lot. Statistics show that while people may become a little more fearful after such an incident, for most, it’s temporary. After all, the best way to overcome fear is exposure.
I will most likely continue to hyperventilate when a plane hits a few bumps; I will probably even stick my head into a stranger’s armpit again (yes, again) and no doubt I will encounter many more scary incidents while whizzing through the air at 30,000 feet. But like those horses my parents kept forcing me to get back on as I sobbed my little heart out in my youth, I will continue to board those scary flying things and expose myself to what may come. It’s what we do.
And talk about resilience, the moment I landed and had my wits returned to the fold, it was hard not to become outraged over the air I was being forced to breathe. How much longer can we tolerate this? At what point do serious sacrifices have to be made and measures taken? We have published untold press releases and stories on government “initiatives” over the years to curb this perennial problem and where has it got us? You know the answer to that…after all, the proof is in the porridge.
Citylife this month:
Adrian Fleur goes deeper into the unconscionable pollution we are all breathing in. Hilary Cadigan explores the ‘it’ phenomenon of selfies in Thailand. Intern Cody Gohl writes a love letter to Isaan and shares his experiences of being young and gay in Chiang Mai. Intern Nicolas Gantois interviews the head of Traffic Police to find out what measures he is putting in to combat the city’s ever-increasing congestion. We give you some great tips for what to do this Songkran as well as how to escape the dry heat and finally Hilary introduces you to a charming new restaurant concept, Rustic and Blue.